Janeen Leah: Talented Singer-Songwriter Ready To Soar
I've been fortunate to hear a lot of really good music lately. There has been some really good major label stuff. A lot of it, however, is indie stuff, and the best I've heard so far is Janeen Leah. I stumbled across her website and fell in love with her amazing material.
The Los Angeles singer-songwriter has just released her debut record "Time is Never Wasted" and it's simply excellent. Janeen shows off several different styles on this disc. While much of the content is of the adult rock variety, she pulls off "Erased" in a bluesy style that is so natural and compelling one would think she's from down south. Switching gears again, "Our Love Grows Stronger" goes for a jazzy bent that is just top shelf.
My favourite songs besides the aforementioned ones are the hypnotic "I Can Not Ignore", and the ebullient "The Feeling". Far and away the strongest cut on the record is "Fallen" which is stellar. Janeen's voice purrs and soars throughout this whole record, sultry and come hither one moment, soft and reassuring the next. The electric guitar is used nicely to punch up the material at just the right spots but it doesn't get in the way. There is a sparseness to the song construction that lets all the instruments breath and put the emphasis on Janeen's wonderful voice.
For fans of Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos and Norah Jones this is in that same vein. However, while Janeen lacks the multi-octave voice of Sarah, the instrumental chops of Tori and the pedigree of Jones, she combines a slice of all these artists making for a package that is vastly superior to all of them. I mean, listen to any Norah Jones record and then listen to this one….come on! Given some national media and a vehicle for her great talent, she should make waves for sure.
I spoke to Janeen recently to find out how she got to this point in her musical career and we talked about how her career is unfolding just the way she is hoping.
antiMusic: "Time Is Never Wasted" is definitely in my top picks of the year. The number of excellent songs on here is amazing. How hard was it to come up with material as strong as you have on this record? Was it like pulling teeth or did you just grab your first 13 tracks and roll with that?
Janeen: Thank you, wow! That's a wonderful thing to say.
Ummm…. from the time that I first selected the songs down to the final record - it had changed…..through the process of recording and figuring out a flow to the album …. some of the original songs were taken out and other songs brought in. Some things just came together. For example… for the title track "Time is Never Wasted"… Peter Kearns, a producer in New Zealand whom I met online (I replied to a posting he had online about seeking to work with American artists)…. he happened to be in LA working with another artist and came into the studio with me to lay down some tracks…. We had some extra time and I wanted to utilize my time with him wisely as he doesn't come out to LA very often….. I remembered some work he had done on a pre-production idea of songs I was throwing out to him to possibly work on together… I loved a musical line he came up with and thought we should lay that down while I had him in the studio… to use at least later on or something… cause I had not intended to put that song on the album. We started to lay the tracks down and it just came together beautifully… I knew it had to be on this record. Also…. "You Wasted a Good One" is another example… I was just about to fall asleep one night when all of the sudden the chorus just came perfectly in my mind …. lyrics, melody and all… I had to wake up and write it down… I ended up finishing it the next day. I knew that song had to be on the album as well. Oh, it was so rewarding to hear on the recording exactly how I had heard it in my head!
antiMusic: How long did this record take to put together and what were some of the first songs to appear?
Janeen: It took two and a half years with many circumstances at play. All of which I am thankful for. I look back now and I'm glad that it took so long, everything came together as it should… such a blessing. During the process though, I did get frustrated at times, but all the while grateful that I was even doing it at all! The first song that was recorded was actually the first track "I Can Not Ignore" - it wasn't planned that way, it just happened to be the best opener for the album. The next song was "Erased" - both songs were then later re-worked and added upon. After that was "The Sea You've Cried"… Disney had expressed interest in it so we made it a priority to get it done, mixed, mastered and everything. I decided that was the song that I wanted Peter Kearns to produce. Disney has yet to license it for placement in anything…. We will see.
antiMusic: There is a real diversity in styles, from the bluesy "Erased" to the rock-ish quality of "Fallen", over to the jazz-flavoured "Our Love Grows Stronger". Do you have to be in a certain mood to write a certain way or do the ideas just come regardless? Please share your writing process.
Janeen: I think my moods do influence my writing definitely…. As far as styles go, I'm into so many different genre's that I would get bored just sticking to one. The writing process…. It's always different… where ever the inspiration starts. It could be with a mood or a feeling, a lyric, a concept, a melody or chord progression which then influences the mood or concept.
antiMusic: What is it about "Time Is Never Wasted" that made you choose it as the title cut?
Janeen: I chose that title because of a couple reasons… first, the recording process of that song was magical. With Peter's ideas and all the instrumentation that he did… then on top of that Keven's sax part that I asked him to do… he recorded it on his own and then had me listen to it later…. It brought a tear to my eye. The song just really captures what I'm about and it rings true to my heart. Again, it was a song that was not originally intended for this album… I was thinking of doing it later…. But it just came together almost effortlessly and it came at a perfect time… it enlivened my resolve for the album and reminded me of why I'm doing music in the first place. I then felt the message of the song really clear - indeed doing this album though frustrating at times… was a situation where time was never wasted, just how the song explains. (smiles) The title was just so fitting for the whole experience of this album and for my whole life… really.
antiMusic: With so many great songs on here, it's hard to pick my favourites. But I would have to volunteer "I Melt Into You", "I Can Not Ignore" and "Fallen" as my Top 3. What is your favourite cut on the record? Why?
Janeen: "Time is Never Wasted", for reasons just said. (smiles)
antiMusic: Are your lyrics written about you and your life or are they all fictionalized?
Janeen: They are written about me or people close to me …. just experiences that are in life. I want my music to be relate-able, not all mysterious and untouchable.
antiMusic: Can you tell us the story behind the bonus cut, "Wine of Consciousness"?
Janeen: This is really cool. It was probably… oh… a year or so before I had even started to conceive the album…. I got an email through my website from Tushar Parte in India asking me if I would like to collaborate. I listened to his work and loved it, so I excitedly replied yes. I've always loved Indian music and I've always wanted to incorporate it into my music somehow, didn't think I would actually get to though! He sent me a CD with the music and him singing a concept of the melody. He wanted me to write the lyrics around the title being "Wine of Consciousness" and in the chorus have the lyrics "drink my wine of consciousness"…. It was a challenge cause I didn't really know what that could mean. I just thought of it being a love song desiring someone to realize their feelings and give in to them… a woman asking a man to become conscious of his love for her… kind of like a seduction… but in a good way. (smiles) The process was really fun and something I had not done before. He sent me the tracks he recorded in India, I then recorded the vocals in LA… sent it back to him and he mixed it in India. Very cool what we can do in this day and age…. Write a song with someone who lives half way around the world! Same thing with Peter ….I wrote "The Sea You've Cried" in LA and he produced it in New Zealand.
antiMusic: Any good stories from the studio; exploding amps, haunted mics or other memorable events?
Janeen: Didn't have quite anything like that. I think the experience recording the song "Time is Never Wasted" was the most memorable. I just had so much fun working with everyone. I spent most of the time with Keven, we would get silly and goofy… just experimenting with different things…. Some of which ended up on the album. Like, the ba da ba pa's on "Our Love Grows Stronger" and the effects on "Fallen" and "Captured in My Own Mind". I was very free to explore at Keven's studio, f Boo…it's so laid back, fun and calming at the same time. All of my experiences there were good and I'll never forget it.
antiMusic: What was the first song you ever wrote? How old were you?
Janeen: The first song I wrote that I can remember, I was about 9 or 10… I wrote it about nature and what a beautiful world God has created for us to live in. My mom helped me put my lyrics and melody to music on the piano. I regret never taking piano lessons from my mom, she always tried to growing up. I guess I thought it wasn't rock 'n roll enough or something… so I went for the guitar. (giggles) Now I wish I knew how to play both…someday I hope to have the time to learn.
antiMusic: How long have you played music and when did you first decide you wanted to do this as a career?
Janeen: I've always known that I wanted to be a singer as far back as I can remember. I started to seriously write songs when I was about 13. I saved up babysitting money and then bought my guitar when I was 14… then the writing happened a lot more. When I was 18 I moved out on my own to LA… I was going to really go for it and I've never stopped.
antiMusic: Who else have you played with or what other bands have you been a part of along the way?
Janeen: I've done some back-up singing jobs. I sang with some bands while I was at Musicians Institute, but always doing the solo thing. My first paid singing job… I sang live back-up vocals for an artist named PJ. I've more recently done live back up vocals for a band name Kriya… the lead singer, TL is a good friend of mine… she's also a stylist she styled me for the photos on my album and website.
antiMusic: What did you learn from Musicians Institute and would you recommend it to other aspiring musicians?
Janeen: I think the biggest thing I took from M.I. is the experience of performing and the art of it, how to loosen up and feel natural and comfortable on stage. The critique's given were very honest and therefore very beneficial to me….Just the over-all experience there, making contacts and coming to my own as a songwriter as well. I attended a great songwriting workshop with Jami Lula there. Other great teachers that have really stuck with me are Mike Campbell and Tommy Reeves. I would definitely recommend aspiring musicians to go there. It was a great time for me that I'll always remember.
antiMusic: Do you have a game plan or a map of where you're going in the music industry?
Janeen: I've made goals, yes. I know what I want and what kind of people I want to work with.
antiMusic: Would you like to be on a major label or are you happy calling the shots?
Janeen: I'm happy calling the shots. If there was a label that came around to me and could offer something better than I'm able to do for myself and I could still keep creative freedom, then I would probably go for it. But, I'm not holding my breath on that.
antiMusic: If you could pattern your career after anybody out there now, who would it be?
Janeen: I respect artists like Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos and Sheryl Crow. It is clear they have creative freedom and control and they command respect and it is given to them. They can also walk down a street and not get mauled by crazy, fanatic fans…. At least I think they can. Plus you don't see them plastered all over the tabloids. I think it's because they are respected.
antiMusic: Who is your audience? Who comes to your shows? Who would you like to appeal to?
Janeen: I'm really starting to just now see who my audience is. It's exciting to see that they are all different. There are all types of people, young and old that come to my shows and buy my album. It really thrills me to see the diversity, I think that is a good sign. I want to appeal to anyone and everyone….. no limit.
antiMusic: You're obviously fabulously gorgeous. How important do you think presentation is to anybody seeking a career in music today?
Janeen: I think talent is everything. However, I'm not ignorant and blind to the fact that as human beings we tend to judge by appearances…. It's not usually a good thing, but I think if we were all honest, we would confess to doing it to some extent. For example… if a cover of an album has a picture that looks unprofessional… people will most likely think the music will be not good quality… regardless if it really is or not… they probably won't give it a chance, unless word of mouth tells them otherwise. I just want to appear as I am… a woman who is professional and passionate about music.
antiMusic: Anything else you would like to tell us about the record or yourself?
Janeen: I guess what I could say is that…I'm an everyday person. I'm a wife and a mother of a 4 year old son. I spend my days cleaning, taking my son to the park and trying to raise him as best as I know how. By night… I'll most likely be out at a gig… my husband is in the band… we will usually stay out and listen to the act that goes on after us… then go to his parent's house to pick up our already asleep child who stays passed out while we get his coat on and put him in his car seat…. (smiles)… he's so used to it, he sleeps through everything.(laughs) Sometimes he'll be at a gig with us… grandma and grandpa watching him in the audience… he'll sing along screaming out the words right along with mommy… sooooo cute! (smiles)
Me and my husband have the same passion for music and the same goals to be doing this for a living. I can just see us toting our kids out on the road with us… for sure. We have a very supportive family who is there for us to help out. We actually couldn't do this without them.
I'm very spiritual. I know that I'm doing what God wants me to be doing…. sharing my talents that He has given me. I'm doing everything that I've ever wanted to do in my life right now…. I've got a wonderful marriage with a beautiful, healthy child and I'm performing and recording my music! I'm very fulfilled and blessed.
antiMusic and Morley Seaver would like to thank Janeen Leah for doing this interview and we wish her all the best with her new record.